South Australia has become the first state to ban lightweight plastic checkout bags.
The ban is expected to reduce the 400 million bags a year which end up in dumps.
Shops must supply reusable or environmentally friendly alternatives such as cornstarch or paper bags.
Retailers could get an on the spot fine of $315, or a maximum penalty of $5,000 if they are caught breaching the ban.
Woolworths spokesman Andrew Hall says the bag ban will be a big challenge to customers and staff.
“For those customers who forget their bags and they need to buy extra bags and the extra time taken to pack those green bags, so again we are urging customers to have some patience and work with us as the ban comes into place,” he said.
The Australian Retailers Association says the ban on plastic bags will increase the risk of contamination and could pass infection onto employees.
The Association’s executive director, Richard Evans, says reusable bags will be exposed to different foods and could lead to health issues.
“Meats and chicken et cetera and fish into one bag and that following week it could be in fact be used with vegetables or fresh fruit or whatever it might be,” he said.
“We leave these things in cars, there’s hygiene issues associated with that, so our concern is that there is an opportunity of health issues coming in because of the recalcitrance of the South Australian Government.”
The Environment Minister, Jay Weatherill, says the public has responded positively to the ban on plastic bags.
“The changed behaviour is already occurring at the retail outlets, we’re seeing people bringing their reusable bags, we’re seeing people bringing other bags from home, all sorts of changed behaviour,” he said.
“We’re seeing retailers get on board, we’ve already seen a number of retailers ban the bag ahead of our ban.”
Mr Weatherill says the Government will push for a nationwide cutback on packaging.
“Anyone that buys anything from a shop will realise they have to plough their way through layers and layers of packaging just to get to the item they want and I think most people regard that as wasteful and I think that’s what we should be moving on next,” he said.